It Comes At Night (2017)

JUNE 9, 2017

GENRE: POST-APOCALYPTIC, THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I kept hearing how It Comes At Night's trailer was misleading and that it wasn't really a horror movie, so I rushed to see it on opening day (instead of The Mummy!) before I knew much else, as I had managed to not see a trailer yet and didn't want to press my luck. All I really knew was that it wasn't a full blown traditional horror movie, and that a lot of my friends liked it, so that was enough to be excited but also not have any specific expectations of what it might be. I point all of that out because I was still disappointed with the film as a whole; it had some really good ideas and performances, and I was on board for about 40 minutes or so, but as it went on, and again when it was over, I couldn't escape a certain "That's IT?" feeling.

And as I got further away from it (i.e. thought about it) I liked it even less, so this might have been a more positive review had I written it that afternoon instead of five days later. I wouldn't say it was a "bad" movie in the traditional sense, but more a frustrating one because it kept introducing these ideas that could have paid off beautifully - or at least, made the film more engaging - but then writer/director Trey Edward Shults would drop them without fanfare. For those who were as blind to the film's narrative as I was, the plot concerns a family of three living in their boarded up home to protect themselves against a deadly virus and also the types of evil humans that show up in 99% of post-apoc/zombie movies. One day a man named Will tries to break in and they capture him, but eventually believe him that he's just like them, trying to protect his family. After some hesitation, the dad (Joel Edgerton) decides to help Will pick up his family (and their supply stash), figuring a group of six is better than a group of three.

Well his son is a teenager who presumably hasn't seen a lot of women since hitting the point in a man's life where seeing women would be a very pleasant experience, and Will's wife is Riley Keough, who any man would justifiably be smitten with. The young man takes an instant liking to her and starts staring at her as she works a well pump, shifting his glance downwards when he should be looking at her face during conversation, etc. So when tensions eventually boil between the two families over a lack of trust, you start wondering if he'll turn on his own family out of desire to be on this woman's good side. But nothing even remotely like that happens! Keough barely even registers in the movie after she notices his attraction, turning the whole subplot into little more than padding. Yes, it helps get across the idea that he's lonely and growing up in a world that won't afford him a normal life (and, presumably, won't ever actually fall in love properly, given the seeming lack of options), but when they zero in on this particular thing for ten straight minutes of the film only to drop it and never mention it again, it's counterproductive.

I could list one or two similar examples, but given that the film seems to be polarizing (the D Cinemascore sure seems odd next to its 86% "fresh" rating Rotten Tomatoes) I don't want to risk spoiling, since half of you will likely love the film. Without spoiling anything else I will say that the script seemed like it was a draft or two away from really hitting it out of the park, which is part of what made it so frustrating - I'd almost rather watch a movie that was just a bust from the start. Oddly it's the 3rd film from A24 in a row that I've seen that left me feeling the same way - one was Blackcoat's Daughter (formerly February) and the other was the non-horror Free Fire. All three films had very direct, uncomplicated plots (though Blackcoat at least offers two such tales, with their connection being a very clumsy twist) that gave far too many talented people almost nothing to do. I mentioned Keough is largely wasted here, but so is Carmen Ejogo (Keough's co-star from The Girlfriend Experience) as Edgerton's wife, who I don't think gets a single scene to herself or even says much of anything when she's around.

But Edgerton gets plenty to do, and gives a fine performance that had me wishing that he directed it as well, since he did such a terrific job with The Gift. I mean I haven't seen Shults' other film (Krisha), but I know it ain't anything that would wind up in a "horror" category, unlike The Gift which does (even though, like this, it seems to fall on the other side of that tight line between horror and thriller), and Edgerton has proven he can handle that kind of situation and make a memorable film - not to mention one audiences had a better response to. It's funny though, he was in the 2011 Thing prequel and here, when the film's at its best, it's actually a better successor to Carpenter's film than that junk. Edgerton's paranoia about whether or not he can trust Will works like gangbusters, and Shults is smart enough to never inform us of Will's true intentions and/or if he's lying about one or all aspects of his story. There's one point where Edgerton seemingly catches Will in a lie about the existence of a (now dead) brother, but Will explains it away - was it the truth, or a lie to cover the lie? And was he only lying in the first place not out of some nefarious motive, but merely to protect himself?

We don't get those answers, and that's fine - because we're with Edgerton and his POV and if he doesn't know, neither should we. The problem is, we're not ALWAYS in his POV, as we shift to the son's perspective for several key scenes and stretches, and even Will's for a brief scene with his family. So that throws off the whole thing, because now that Shults has shown us he's NOT bounding himself to just Edgerton's perspective on things, it makes the unanswered questions all the more exasperating, because it's like he's randomizing what he chooses to reveal and what he leaves up to our imagination. He also blunders a bit by (vague spoiler ahead) proving Edgerton was right about one thing, which renders his earlier actions defensible when it seems like we're supposed to wonder if what he did was the right call. The ending is not a happy one, I assure you - but a few tweaks could have put it into The Mist territory in terms of ballsiness. Instead it's just... well, kind of a practical one.

Shults also plays with the film's aspect ratio, starting off in the traditional 2.40:1 range but going to 3:1 by the end. It's a techie gimmick that most won't notice (including myself, partially because the theater didn't have it framed correctly in the first place), and rubbed me the wrong way when I read about it later. Like he cares about this but can't be bothered to give either of his actresses anything of note to do, or resolve two subplots, or explain why they're so afraid of the virus that they sometimes use gas masks inside, but at one point Edgerton just takes his off for no reason when he's outside in an unfamiliar area. It reminds me of those obnoxious gamers who care more about whether or not the game will have a high FPS rate than they do if the game itself is actually any good. I mean if that's his deal, fine - but it will make me very hesitant the next time he's got a film out there, because it seems we care about very different things when it comes to movies. Nice cinematography though.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure where the misdirection and whatnot is coming from either. I did see the trailer a couple of times, and I immediately figured it was going to be another (spoiler) Romero homage where the people would be more destructive than whatever the "it" was. Like, it's 95% the movie I thought it would be, and I still was let down because, yeah, "that's it?" It's been done so much at this point that I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised with the actual menace threatened by the title.

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